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Published on September 17th, 2014 | by Joe Takeuchi

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8 Tips to Cultivating a Successful API Program

Last week, we attended Apigee’s ‘I Love APIs’ conference at Fort Mason here in San Francisco. ‘I Love APIs’ is Apigee’s annual API (application programming interface) conference full of informative keynotes, workshops, and many opportunities to network with the API and developer community.

One of the most valuable sessions we attended focused on internal, partner, and developer programs. Leading the session was Michael Leppitsch, Head of Digital Transformation Strategies at Apigee. The panel consisted of Adam Fitzgerald, Amazon Web Services’ Developer Marketing Head, Matt Makai, Developer Evangelist for Twilio, Kay Lummitsch, Developer Evangelist for Swisscom, and Joe Rago, Senior Product Manager for Walgreens.

Below are some highlights from the talk, and some of the useful tips they shared for creating and managing both a successful internal and external developer program:

1. Segment Your Developer Community: It’s important to segment your developer community, both internally and externally, to appeal to their different motivations and generate faith in the API. For external developers, trust is key. You want to build trust with external developers so they believe in the quality of your API and its ability to solve their problems and address their development needs. This can be achieved not only through quality support and collaborative development, but also in the general way in which your API is built. Internally you still want to treat your developers as if they were external partners. Cater to and appeal to their unique motivations in the same way. Events such as internal hackathons and API “kitchens” can help your internal developers buy into the program.

2. Build and Consume: When it comes to your internal API development, you want to make sure you’re doing just as much consuming as you are building. Your developers should be using the APIs as much as they’re developing them. It’s important for your dev team to see what an external developer’s experience will be when using your API. Knowing what that experience is will help your support and outreach efforts as you work to inspire and equip your external developers through faith-building and education.

3. Develop for Everyone: Adam Fuchs of AWS (Amazon Web Services) made note that he doesn’t make any distinction between internal and external developers, as you need to build your APIs for both audiences. No group should get preferential treatment, and you should use what your customers will use. This helps inspire quality in the APIs you build. Your API is your contract with the customer. It’s imperative to listen to customer requests and feedback and allow that to drive development. Treat your developer community as a democracy, and get your internal developers in front of the external ones to create a powerful relationship that can pay huge dividends as your program grows.

4. Allow for Easy Access: Self-service API keys are essential. You must have a low barrier entry to your API. Once developers have access, use forums or applications such as Basecamp to guide conversations. Partner with your external developers through their development process. Look to your developers for guidance: track GitHub activity, Stack Overflow, blogs, and forums for feedback and issues. A free tier to access your API is also crucial. Let developers learn and test your API without having to absorb a cost.

6. Engage the Community: Have a hands-on approach to your platform and interacting with the dev community. Attend meetups and hackathons, and send your developers to them as well. Make sure your documentation and support channels are well-indexed in search engines and keep the dev community engaged. API walkthroughs, reference guides, and white papers are all ways to do this. Twitter is also a great way to reach the community.

7. Know Your KPIs: Make sure you’re measuring your successes in the right ways. Develop the KPIs around your program, and reevaluate them constantly. For example, it’s not enough to just measure call volumes, but you must tie those volumes to billing metrics and overhead. What did it cost to execute on that volume? What portion of the calls to your API are actually making an impact on revenue?

8. Cultivate an API Ecosystem: It is important to build an API ecosystem and not just a sales channel. Rather than simply touting your platform and selling the API, become a respected and trusted agent in the developer and API community by supporting and contributing to it. When external developers have success with your API, let the world know! Every developer learning and using your API is making an investment in it. If it doesn’t work well, they will abandon it. Respect that investment and recognize that your developers are the key to your program’s success.

Have any tips to add? Share in the comments.

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© 2014 – 2015, Joe Takeuchi. All rights reserved.

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